MOSCOW-"The way for this country to develop is almost inexorably toward a market economy," said Dick Raper, president of Mars Inc.'s Masterfoods here. "The business climate will continue unaffected by politics."
So despite a government with a penchant for protective tariffs and tax law surprises, most marketers stay even in the face of unpredictable legislation and crime that have left Russia's attraction the same as it was when the market was just opening: size.
"It's more exciting because the scale of operations is so much bigger than elsewhere," Mr. Raper said.
With a potential market of 149 million people, 28.4% within the prime candy-buying ages of 15 to 34, Russia is too sweet an attraction to pass up.
A February decree by President Boris Yeltsin banned tobacco and alcohol ads in media (although it hasn't been enforced). Parliament is still mulling a bill that would set strictures on advertising including limiting TV airtime and ad space in print media.
The new owners of Russia's largest TV network-Russian Public Television-have halted ads indefinitely on the channel as they try to beat a system of middlemen media wholesalers in a continuation of a battle that may have been a factor in the murder of its Executive Director Vladislav Listyev last March.
A recent Labor Ministry study put as much as 40% of Russian earnings below the state-set "subsistence minimum" of $50 a month-an estimate that indicates nearly half of all Russians would need to shell out a third of their daily income for a Snickers bar. But Russia's giant size makes Western marketers forget the growing underclass almost as easily as the government does.